Armed with a gigantic, spinning steel ball, researchers hope to simulate the Earth's magnetic field and discover how likely it is that our planet's magnetic polarity will flip sometime soon. Our magnetic field has reversed polarity in the past many times, though not in the last 780,000 years. So it's unclear what might happen. Science writer Clive Thompson speculates that it could be "pretty nasty." He writes:

The magnetic field deflects a lot of the Sun's incredibly nasty radiation, so if you take it away, we could all get microwaved to a crisp.

Even scarier: The Earth's magnetic field has weakened by ten percent over the last 160 years. Does that mean we're due for a flip? Dan Lathrop, a geophysicist at University of Maryland, will try to find out when he spins up his mega steel ball and recreates (on a small scale) the magnetic conditions on Earth. [via Collision Detection]